I work in a pretty conservative church. Each Sunday, I show up, play some outdated worship music that is so theologically oversimplified that I have to grit my teeth to belch out the full song, and then listen to folks complain about how it's not as good as those old-timey hymns. They talk a lot about "winning souls" for Jesus, and how people are transformed not by our doing, but by the blood of Christ alone.
I work in the kind of church that often talks about fire.
If you don't evangelize people, truly turn them to Jesus, then you will be cast into a fiery hell which burns forever. Also, you are supposed to be on fire for God. Talk about mixing metaphors.
It seems like fire has been so overused as an image in Christian theology that it has become cliche, its meaning almost lost. We Christian folk have become quite fond of using the phrase "on fire for God" every time we see a passionate speaker, or someone with powerful ambition (this latter example is perhaps the most common--and most dangerous--use of the phrase). I was first introduced to the true power of the fire metaphor in mewithoutYou's brilliant elegy, "The King Beetle on a Coconut Estate," which was inspired by a Sufi bedtime story told to the band's lead singer when he was a child.
Not long after that, I became engrossed in the teachings of the Desert Fathers, and soon stumbled upon this week's thought, courtesy of Abba Lot and Abba Joseph. You've read their mysterious anecdote. Now listen to the song below:
Fire is not a threat to be brandished for wrongdoing. Fire is not (or at least, should not be) a glossy label for someone driven by ego and desire for power.
We do not consume the fire. We allow the fire to consume us. To transform us into something mysterious and unknowable--broken of our own will, we become one with the fire. And that fire is God.Why not be utterly changed into fire?